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Aug 24 2023

Auckland Council and the Crown agree to share storm recovery costs

Wayne Brown surveys January’s flood damage in Auckland (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

Auckland Council and the government have agreed in principle to a cost-sharing agreement to fund recovery and resilience work following the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle.

“I am pleased we have reached this agreement so Auckland Council can provide certainty for the people whose properties, or those close to theirs, were severely damaged by landslides or flooding,” cyclone recovery minister Grant Robertson said. 

The Crown has already agreed to pay $877m from the National Resilience Plan towards the initiative. Money is split into three funding streams: house buyouts, flood mitigation and transport network repairs. 

Council and government will each contribute half of the $774m towards purchasing category three residential properties where it is a risk to live and flood mitigation is not feasible. Auckland Council estimates there are 700 such homes. Similar 50:50 funding agreements were reached between the Crown and the councils in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay. 

$380m for flood protection works is being allocated by the government towards category two areas that were damaged during the wild weather. “This work is essential to provide security to those who will continue to live in flood-prone areas, in the face of more intense and frequent weather events,” said Robertson. These efforts will include increased maintenance, stream rehabilitation, culvert and bridge upgrades, overland flow path management, and introducing blue-green networks in flood-risk areas. 

Blue-green networks are enhanced parkland and open-space stormwater solutions. The places being considered for blue-green projects are the following areas: Wairau Creek, Kumeū River, Waimoko Stream, Opanuku Stream, Porters Stream, Whau Stream, Cox’s Creek, Gribblehurst Park, St Leonards Road, Te Auaunga Awa, Harania Creek, Te Ararata Greenway and Whangapouri.

Target areas for transport network repairs include Mill Flat Road Bridge, access to Karekare and Piha and slips on Bethells Road. The government will contribute at least $110m to these initiatives. Auckland Council will supply $81m towards transport network repairs and its application for a further $199m from Waka Kotahi is expected to be approved. That would bring the total governmental contribution across all funding streams to nearly $1.1bn. 

Auckland councillors unanimously endorsed the initiative in principle, but it is still subject to public consultation because of the significant financial burden. “Some of that falls on ratepayers, so we need to consult with them on these costs,” said Auckland mayor Wayne Brown.

A two-week consultation period will open in mid-September, primarily targeting the affected areas of Auckland.

National’s Tim van de Molen in contempt of parliament for threatening Labour MP

National Party MP Tim van de Molen in 2020 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

National MP Tim van de Molen has been stood down from his portfolios after the Privileges Committee found his behaviour towards Labour MP Shanan Halbert was in contempt of parliament.

Earlier this month, van de Molen was referred to the committee after a complaint was made by Labour MP Rachel Boyack about his behaviour during a meeting of the transport and infrastructure select committee. She alleged he became frustrated with question allocation and had stood over Halbert, the committee chairperson, and been “physically and verbally aggressive”. Van de Molen disputed Boyack’s version of events.

The Privileges Committee’s report, released today, found van de Molen’s conduct “was aggressive in the sense of being hostile, unprofessional and with an element that was objectively threatening, but not in the sense of physical violence”.

While he did not “stand over” Halbert, he did “stand close” to him, and his conduct had “caused discomfort for all three of the parliamentary staff who were present at the time and each considered the need to ring for security”.

“Acting in a threatening manner toward a member of parliament on account of their conduct in Parliament, and particularly for their conduct as a presiding officer, is a serious matter. We therefore recommend that Mr van de Molen be censured by the House for threatening a member on account of their conduct as a presiding officer and impeding them in the discharge of their duties as a member,” concluded the report.

In response to the report, National leader Christopher Luxon said van de Molen had been stood down from all of his portfolio responsibilities.

“Tim’s behaviour is not up to the standards I expect of National MPs,” said Luxon in a press release. “Tim has had a difficult year personally, but that does not excuse any MP indulging in the behaviour described in the report.

“Tim accepts all the findings and has publicly apologised. He has also committed to seeking coaching support to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“Everyone makes mistakes, and there is a path back for Tim – provided he can demonstrate to me, the wider National caucus, and himself, that he has learnt from this incident and grown as a result.”

All Van de Molen’s portfolio responsibilities have been removed, with Andrew Bayly taking on the building and construction portfolio, Gerry Brownlee defence and veterans, and Simon Watts ACC.

National Party MP Tim van de Molen in 2020 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Air New Zealand returns to profit after three years of losses

(Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Air New Zealand has posted a profit of $412 million in the year to June 30 and has resumed dividend payments, reflecting a return to strong demand for travel after the downturn of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in three consecutive years of losses.

The company was hit hard when international borders were closed and needed the government’s help to stay afloat. The $412m profit is a turnaround from a loss of $591m the previous year.

“After several volatile years it’s great to be back in the black and standing on our own two feet, especially given we have more than $3.5 billion in aircraft investment coming over the next five years,” Stuff reported chief executive Greg Foran as saying.

The company will pay a 6c final dividend, having not paid a dividend since 2019.

Prigozhin, head of Russian Wagner mercenary group, believed dead in plane crash

Yevgeny Prigozhin in a recent video appearing to be in Africa

Russian state media has reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group that led a brief armed rebellion against Putin’s government earlier this year, has been killed in a plane crash.

Russia’s civil aviation authority has said that Prigozhin was on the passenger list of a jet, which he himself owned, that crashed. There were no survivors among the 10 people on board. Grey Zone, the Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel, had earlier suggested foul play from Russia and that the plane was shot down by air defences following the failed mutiny by the Wagner private army in June.

Senior Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin was also reported to have died in the crash.

Prigozhin had reportedly been travelling for the past two months, first to Belarus then as far as Africa, with his mercenaries. The mutiny he led had killed an estimated 15 Russian servicemen and while Putin had reportedly agreed to the resolution, many expected a harsher punishment to befall Prigozhin.

The aircraft this morning crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in Tver region, on its way to St Petersburg from Moscow.

Buy out deal coming for storm-impacted residents in Auckland

As reported in this morning’s Bulletin, Auckland Council has reached a deal with government and will approve a buy out package for hundreds of uninhabitable properties after the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. Reporting for the Herald, Bernard Orsman writes that the package is understood to be in excess of $1b, will cover other storm-related costs and will be paid for by borrowing and future rates rises.

Councillors were briefed on the details yesterday. Orsman reports that the deal uses the same cost-sharing approach used in the agreement reached between Hawke’s Bay councils and the government earlier this month.

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